What you wish for

Some times things get lost during travel. I’m not talking big stuff. I mean material, insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things stuff. The loss of the thing itself is usually not that big of a deal at all. The whole mental and emotional process around that loss however can turn into something much larger.

Prelude

Of course it is naïve to think that a trip of the nature and scale we have undertaken will all be smooth sailing and happy moments. Spending all day every day with a single individual, differences are bound to come up. Roman and I knew this going into our big adventure. Days on the road and in the environment that is my restless mind vary. Lots of days are great, but some days I may tend to focus on and worry about the differences that come up.

Like today. Roman is two years younger than I am. It’s not such a big difference, really, but one of my reoccurring worries is that I am analog while he is digital. Except of course, being “analog”, I don’t even really know what that means. 🙂

He is Mr. Tech. I am… not anti-tech, but being tech-savy or tech-focused is not really how I’m wired, no pun intended. When we met, I didn’t own a cell phone or even have internet in my apartment.

Now, six years later, I’ve been able to download entertainment of my choosing for long plane rides, update my facebook status from a moving train in India, find my way around a new city with an electronic map in the palm of my hand, all thanks to him and the amazing technology he’s introduced into my life.

I am grateful, constantly grateful. But there are days where doubts creep in. In the travel of my imagination, in the (probably highly romanticized) travel of my pre-tech past, things were more immediate and adventurous and vibrant, less organized and informed and intellectual. When I get sucked into the dangerous choreography of expectations, I get worried that I’m not traveling the way one is supposed to, that somehow (and in part because of all that technology) I am missing out on some element or experience of what I hoped/expected traveling the world would be like.

These doubts were sneaking around my mind today when we went to go explore Cholon, Saigon’s crowded, chaotic China town. We’d arrived at the warren-like Bihn Tay market and spent a bit of time poking around the narrow paths between the overflowing stalls and avoiding one of the day’s many rain showers.

Somehow we were both a bit on edge when we left. We had an idea of the pagodas in the neighborhood that we wanted to visit after the market.

Here is a good place to point out another difference between us (one which at least doesn’t make me sound so old! 😉 ). I tend to be less patient (eager and enthusiastic is how I like to paint it on my good days); Roman tends to have the patience of a saint.

We left the market and I had a vague feeling of what direction the pagodas were in. Roman kept stopping to check both the electric Lonely Planet and Google Maps app on his iPhone. He commented on how much he loved traveling with all that information in the palm of his hand.

Logically I could see the advantage and had to agree; inside though my heart was rebelling and all I could think was, I don’t want my eyes glued on a miniscule screen when this wonderful world is all around me. I want to be wandering around and getting lost and making unexpected discoveries until I’m full up! The last thing I want right now is to be fiddling around with an iPhone!

The difficulty here is the following. I DO see how many times the phone and technology has come in extremely useful! It’s great that we have a whole library in the phone and don’t have to tote around heavy paper books. It’s wonderful that if we get lost or suddenly get a craving for sushi, we can hop online, locate ourselves on the map, and find our way back to the hotel or to the closest Japanese restaurant with the highest rating on Trip Advisor.

I could list twenty more examples of why the technology is great. If this were a battle, it would be clear that my stubborn, old-school, analog-style heart and spirit are on the losing side (a fact that makes me feel childish, which I suppose should help with any issues I have about being older than Roman but actually mostly just makes me feel worse).

All this to come to the following point. As we were trying to make our way to visit the pagodas in Cholon, I was wondering what exploring a city might be like without an iPhone.

Sequence of events

External Internal
We are walking away from the market in the direction, I feel confident, of the pagodas I am frustrated. I am wondering what exploring a city might be like without an iPhone.
For the third or fourth time, Roman stops on the sidewalk to double-check the map. I am frustrated. I am wondering what exploring a city might be like without an iPhone.
Roman asks me to check the name of the pagoda we want to go to on my iPhone. I am frustrated as I take the iPhone out of my bag and check my e-notes.
Peripheral vision notices a moped driving up to us on the sidewalk. This city is full of mopeds driving extremely close to us all the time, even on sidewalks. Moped is noted but I feel confident it won’t drive into us. Attention returns to frustrated note checking.
iPhone is suddenly taken from my hands. Mental process: Is this something a) weird, b) funny, c) coincidental and/or magical, d) non-threatening, e) threatening f) etc./other? Assessment: E – what ever is happening, this is not ok.
I yell “Hey!” and look up at the two young guys on the moped, one with my phone in his hand. Yup, these guys are robbing me.
They start to pull away. “Hey!!!!” I yell, this time louder and angrier. I wonder if there’s any chance I can get my phone back? If they see how upset I am maybe they will change their mind? Maybe I can somehow magically appeal to their humanity?
Their retreat is slower than expected. I start to run after them “HEEEEEEYYY!!!” $%@, can’t let them leave with my phone, phone being stolen = bad!
They start to speed up. I stop chasing them. I can probably grab the guy on the back. But what if they have a knife? What if they try to take my camera too? What if I get him, and he tries to hurt me? It’s not worth it. It’s just a phone.
Without a word, Roman hands me his things and takes off running after them down the street. Manly, heroic, sexy Roman. In shock and awe that he would do something like this for me. My hero.
Roman disappears, the crowd of Vietnamese people stare at me, I drop half my stuff. Huh? What just happened? How am I supposed to feel? These people are staring at me.
I spend a minute gathering dropped things, standing around, getting stared at. Ok, Roman my hero still hasn’t come back, could he have possibly caught up with the guys? What is going on???
I walk to the end of the street. A man who has seen what happened points down the road where Roman has apparently run. I see nothing but a crowd of Vietnamese people. Crap. What’s the right thing to do? Should I be upset? I have no idea where Roman is. What if he caught up with the guys? God I hope he’s ok.
I stand stupidly on the street corner for minutes that pass by way too slowly. What if he chased them down some dark, dank alleyway? What if they are fighting him? What if he is hurt? I have no way of finding him if he needs me! If he’s in trouble there is nothing I can do to help him! Oh my God I hope he’s ok! Ok, you are probably freaking out and he’s probably fine. Yeah, but what if he’s not????
After an eternity, another guy hanging out on the street waves at me and points down the road to where I got robbed. Roman is there, walking up the street. Oh thank God, oh thank God, oh thank God. Oh thank God.
I run to Roman and nearly start crying right there on the street. I want to grab Roman and hug him but we are in Asia and that is not kosher. I feel like a baby and a fool. I feel angry and relieved, like a big, awkward tourist, confused, shaken, numb and perfectly fine all at the same time.

Epilogue

Most of the rest of the day is spent hashing, rehashing, analyzing, reacting, working on getting over.

First the good stuff. These things I am able to realize almost right away and do not lose sight of.

It’s just an iPhone. Of all the expensive stuff we are carrying with us, if something had to get stolen, this is probably the “best” thing to lose. Better that than my camera and photos. Better that than my laptop with my photos, music, movies. Better than my wallet which would mean the hassle of canceling credit cards – and how to get new ones on the road? Better my phone than Roman’s (he is, after all, Mr. Tech). Really, this is quite manageable.

Of all the less-pleasant things that can happen during travel, this is also quite innocuous. No violence, no one hurt, nothing that can’t be replaced… Again, it’s just an iPhone.

The less fun stuff is all the “what ifs” and “what might this mean”, which of course I realize do not and cannot make the situation any better but you can’t help but go there anyway.

I was wearing that silly, flowy, boho top I got in Cambodia – does it make me look like a dumb tourist and an easy target? (The last thing I want to be is a dumb tourist!) In that split second my reptile brain made the call that safe is better than sorry but I bet I could have grabbed that guy’s shirt or knocked him off the bike and maybe if I had I would still have my phone. Am I a wimp? Am I a girly girl? Am I a timid dumb tourist? (The very last thing I want to be is a girly dumb tourist!) I want to be more adventurous and I worry that Roman is too logical and technical for me but when push comes to shove, I am the wimp that stayed put and he is the hero that ran after the guys – what does THAT say about me?

I am grateful I am not so gormless that I couldn’t figure out what was happening at the time, that I was able to react somehow and react with anger. At earlier points in my life, I probably would have been so wrapped up with not wanting to offend people that my first instinct would have been to convince myself that what ever was happening, they (the thiefs) were in the right and I was in the wrong and better not make a fuss. Still, while this is progress, it is not good enough and I am angry and (as usual) impatient with myself.

And so on and so forth; all of this going on inside of me as we stop for a drink to calm down, Roman tries to track down my phone with all his marvelous technology, we both slowly start to come out of the adrenaline of what just happened and start talking it over, we decide to continue with our pagoda tour as planned.

I light a big coil of incense at the first pagoda we visit, scribbling a quick prayer of forgiveness to the thiefs and of release for my phone on the pink paper before the whole get up is hoisted up to the ceiling by an efficient member of the temple staff. I hope it will do something for someone, if not for me, for the young men who have decided, for what ever reason or circumstance, to make a living stealing people’s phones off the street.

With each passing hour, my outlook gets better. Roman assures me I am not a dumb tourist or a wimpy girly girl. I can sort of agree. I decide that despite the incident, I still really like this city.

A little girl waves and smiles at me from her mother’s arms. I smile and wave back. We hide out from a massive downpour in another pagoda. It’s gaudy with fake crystal chandeliers, piped in music, statues and decorations in deep primary colours. The incense is so thick it starts to give me a headache after a while. I mostly love the place. We go out for pizza dinner. Vietnamese beer is tasty and it helps. I talk to my mother over a bad phone connection. The sound of her voice warms me despite the occasional static and delays. I am comforted.

At some point I remember the things I was thinking and feeling right before the phone was removed from my hand. I have to wonder. Maybe I was only getting what I asked for?

I don’t know how I’ll feel when I wake up tomorrow. I know for sure there will be moments I wish I still had my iPhone (already when we got back to the hotel, I was wishing I could go hide myself in the great eBook I’d been reading). But maybe there will be other moments, real-life moments when I might otherwise have been stuck with my face in my phone, that I’ll be happy to experience. I can only hope so anyhow. 🙂

And if not, hey, it’s just an iPhone. I can always buy another one.

Saigon sidenote: Sweet sins

Before I keep blogging about Cambodia, I need to quickly share about a food experience we’ve had here in Saigon.

By now you probably know how much I love good food. What I may not have confessed yet is that I have a particularly strong weakness for ice cream. I just Love the stuff. Love with a capital “L”.

When I was reading about food places here in Saigon in the Lonely Planet, a place called Fanny’s Ice Cream Parlour caught my eye. LP wrote that it serves some interesting flavors, including durian – the only exotic fruit that I have been a wimp about trying.

I’m very curious and eager to give durian a go, but being shut up with the intense smell of it when a Cambodian family sharing the bus with us had it for a snack kind of put me off, plus the fact that when I’ve seen it for sale, it’s always been as a whole fruit, and durian get to be massive!

I found this video online if you are curious about the whole smell thing:

Anyhow, it seemed like durian ice cream could be the perfect introduction! I’ve never experienced smelly ice cream, and I could order just one scoop. Thus Fanny’s ended up on our to-do list yesterday.

We didn’t know what we were getting in to. We sat down at the mini-table. Everything is cute and girly – tiny carnations in a small vase, doll-sized wine glasses with single gulps of cool water… – except the menu, which was huge to the point of awe and overwhelm.

Let me put it this way. There is one item on the menu, a share-with-a-friend sampler. You get to pick your flavors for a taste-testing platter. Twenty of them.

Twenty flavors isn’t enough to come close to exhausting the ice cream they have on offer. The menu includes a bevy of creative and intriguing taste combinations piled together in beautiful and colorful ice cream works of art.

This is the one Roman ordered off the menu – I forget the name but it involves fruit salad including lotus pod seeds and lotus root, refreshing berry ice creams and sorbets and a lotus flower made of white chocolate and whipped cream. Just to give you an idea.

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I went rogue though and created my own plate. After agonizing deliberation, I and my taste buds ended up with four scoops of ice cream heaven.

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“Young rice” was delicate, smooth and light. It got a bit lost but did provide some balance to it’s more potent companions. “Chili chocolate” had just the right amount of spicy bite while still being a totally satisfying chocolate experience. “Peanut” was sweet, nutty, chewy bliss. “Ginger” was zingy and creamy at the same time. Perfection. All topped by thinly sliced almond and the definition of what caramel sauce really is meant to be. No artificial flavors here (or in any of the ice cream either for that matter) – just a deep, toasty, amazing flavor blending perfectly with the lighter notes of ice cream.

Can you tell I was in heaven?

And yes, I realize after all that I didn’t get around to trying the durian ice cream after all. Shucks, I guess we’ll just have to go back!! 😉